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How old do you have to be to get a credit card?

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Establishing a strong credit history ranks among the paramount responsibilities for young individuals, and initiating this process as early as possible is highly beneficial. Although 18 is typically the minimum age to become a primary cardholder with most card issuers, obtaining a credit card before turning 21 can present certain challenges.

If you’re new to the world of credit, here’s what you should be aware of before you decide to apply for a credit card, which includes understanding the minimum age requirement for obtaining your own card.

How old do you have to be to get a credit card?

The typical guideline is that individuals seeking to become cardholders must be a minimum of 18 years old, the age at which you are generally considered legally capable of entering into contracts. If you’re under 21 and lack a credit history or possess a strong credit score, most credit card issuers will likely request evidence of your income to ensure you can manage and repay your credit card debt independently.

Credit cards for those under 21

For those who are 18 years old and lack the necessary income for a conventional credit card, an alternative option is a secured credit card. With a secured credit card, you’re required to provide an initial security deposit, which serves as the card’s credit limit. Secured credit cards are tailored to individuals with no credit history or less-than-stellar credit scores, as the upfront deposit mitigates the risk for lenders when approving your card. The top secured credit cards offer opportunities to establish or rebuild your credit with minimal fees and even some perks for your spending.

If you’re still a student, it’s worth considering a student credit card. While these cards may request proof of independent income for individuals under 21, the best student credit cards often feature lower credit requirements, higher approval rates for those with limited credit history or income, and rewards tailored specifically for students.

How to access a credit card before you’re 18

If you’re below the age of 18, your sole recourse is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account. As an authorized user, you receive your own credit card linked to the account of, for instance, a parent or a trusted mentor. While your name is associated with the card, the primary cardholder bears ultimate responsibility for any debts that you cannot cover.

Many credit issuers report not only the payment activity of the primary cardholder but also that of authorized users to the credit bureaus. This means that your credit score will likely benefit from your authorized user status. However, it’s important to note that if the primary cardholder has a history of late or missed payments or maintains high credit utilization, these factors could potentially have an adverse impact on your credit score.

How to start building credit

Once you’ve been approved for a credit card, the journey of responsible usage begins. Practicing sound credit habits, such as making timely payments, is vital for the process of building or repairing your credit score, a task that can take around six months or longer. It’s important to understand the key factors that credit bureaus evaluate when determining your credit score, which include payment history, credit utilization, credit age, credit diversity, and new credit, each carrying its own weight in the calculation.

While it may be tempting to indulge in spending with your newly acquired credit, living within your means and striving to pay off your balances is crucial, ideally in full every month. This approach helps prevent falling into credit card debt, which could harm your credit standing. Use your credit card solely for purchases you’re confident you can settle at the end of each billing cycle, ensuring that your credit utilization, or the proportion of your available credit that you’re using, stays below 30 percent.

To establish a foundation for success, initiate your credit journey with a single card and focus on nurturing your credit history for at least six months before considering additional cards. Taking the time to build a strong credit score will open the door to an array of premium credit cards offering attractive rewards, lower interest rates, and enticing welcome bonuses.

The bottom line

Reaching the age of 18 unlocks a realm of fresh financial prospects that can set you on a course toward building a robust credit score. Whether you opt for a well-suited starter credit card tailored for those with limited credit history, consider obtaining a secured card by providing a security deposit, or request to be added as an authorized user on another person’s account, it’s crucial to handle your credit responsibly.

Ensure that you meet your financial obligations punctually and, whenever possible, in full to avoid incurring steep interest charges on any carried-over balances. Maintain your focus on cultivating an outstanding credit profile, as it will open the doors to the most favorable credit options in your future.

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